Two patients with suspected symptoms of the Ebola virus have run away from a rural health centre in Al Madinah Province in Saudi Arabia, reported local media outlet Arab News, in a sequeunce of events subsequently confirmed by a statement from the Health Affairs Directorate in Madinah.
The two men, both African citizens of unconfirmed nationality, attended the medical centre “complaining of difficulty breathing and bleeding while passing urine,” a health official at the centre was quoted as saying, before both men fled the facility when asked to produce residency permits.
A doctor had issued instructions for the transfer of the individuals to a hospital, but fearing arrest the men left before further tests could be conducted, according to the same health official that spoke with Arab News. Local police have been informed and have been searching for the patients, but without results so far.
The Health Affairs Directorate in Madinah stated that the patients were from East Africa, a region so far unaffected by Ebola, but since the men failed to provide any documentation, it is unclear as to how officials were able to reach this conclusion about the nationality of the individuals.
However, whether or not the suspects truly did have the Ebola virus, the incident is an embarrassment for the authorities coming so shortly after the executive board for the GCC met and pledged to step up precautions ahead of this year’s Hajj, which will centre around Makkah and Madinah in early October.
A week ago, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health declared a ban on issuing visas to pilgrims from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in a weighty decision for the only country in the world where the annual income resulting from activities related to the Islamic pilgrimage can exceed $30bn.
Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia’s Health Ministry also had to battle media inquiries over the death of a 40-year-old Saudi man displaying “symptoms of viral haemorrhagic fever” after a business trip to Sierra Leone. Initial results for blood samples sent to an international laboratory tested negative.
The UAE has meanwhile quarantined six people over the death of a 35-year-old Nigerian woman who flew from Nigeria to the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, on the way to India for cancer treatment. The woman’s husband and five attending medics have been isolated awaiting test results.
At the beginning of the month, Emirates Airline announced its cancellation of all flights to Conakry, following similar actions by West African airlines including Arik Air, the largest airline operator in, and Togo’s ASKY Airlines, both of which had already cut flights to the three worst-affected countries.
Since then, the World Health Organisation, has approved the use of experimental Ebola drugs in the limited circumstances of the current outbreak, and US biotech firm Mapp has released its remaining stock of a dozen doses of the anti-viral serum, Zmapp, at the request of the Liberian presidency.
Two American medical professionals were earlier treated with the serum and appeared to respond positively. Liberia has proceeded to treat three of its own health workers, and following signs of recovery from the individuals, medical experts are cautiously optimistic about the efficacy of the drug.
Over 1,200 people have died from Ebola in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria in the current outbreak, the worst since the disease with first identified in 1976, and the Centre for Disease Control estimate that there have been more than 2,200 suspected and confirmed cases of infection.